Sunday, 3 March 2013
How easy can it be to start getting a whole community to start growing their own? In Veg Street we learn all it needs is a serendipitous knock on a neighbour's door...
...Naomi Schillinger's lively debut shows how one simple action can unleash a sequence of events which ends in the floral transformation of a London neighbourhood and over 100 residents growing their own.
I always feel a bit nervous when reviewing a book by someone I know, especially when they've sent me the book. However, I needn't have worried. Veg Street is just as warm and thoughtful as Naomi's blog, Out of My Shed. I've always thought a community growing project must be a complicated affair, but it's reassuring to see the lure of cake is just as irresistible to neighbours as it is to those who visit gardens. The Cake Sunday events are a brilliant way to bring everyone together informally to share ideas and distribute resources. Naomi is equally reassuring the committee side of things can be relatively simple too.
The bulk of the book is divided into months, though it's not just a month by month guide of what to do, grow and harvest. The One Pot Shop pages (engagingly housed in a large flowerpot outline) highlight a host of fun projects designed to make the most of small spaces. Suitcases, kettles and tennis ball tubes all vie for the award for the funkiest container. The Simple But Brilliant Ideas pages are the home for more projects such as making seed bombs, home-made plant labels plus the anti-squirrel crop protection usually much needed in urban areas.
The Community Corner pages, not only highlight the communal growing areas in Veg Street, they also provide a simple step by step guide for anyone wanting to start their own community gardening scheme. By inserting these tasks amongst all the practical growing and fun projects, it makes the management side of things seem much more doable.
The growing guides aren't definitive, but that's not a problem as there's enough information for anyone to get started. The main point of Veg Street is a celebration of what's been achieved by a very diverse group of people in a relatively short time. It also helps having an enlightened council (Islington) willing to provide the resources and small grants needed to get the project off the ground. Long may they continue to do so.
As well as providing gardening advice to her neighbours and writing the text, it's Naomi's photographic skills which show off her cheerful neighbours as they go about their tasks. They depict gardening as an enjoyable activity for all ages - something that's missing in many gardening books.
Veg Street is the heart warming story of the transformation of one London neighbourhood, which provides a model for any street, anywhere to change into one which not only embraces fresh air, flowers, fruit and veg, but also becomes a much friendlier and safer place in the process. Solo growers needn't feel left out either, as there's lots to inspire them too.
Congratulations, Naomi on a very fine book and the rest of the Veg Street residents for making me want to move to London!